Posts Tagged Scotland

National or Northern? One is far healthier than the other

There was, for a space of about six months between the release of the White Paper on Independence and the Easter break, a huge upsurge in interest in the Nordic aspects of Scotland’s independence movement. Assorted documentaries on TV and Radio, some SNP rhetoric on ‘Nordic’ childcare and a plethora of newspaper columns ranging from the meticulously informed to the blatantly phoned-in all sought to either support or criticise the idea of Scotland’s Nordic dream.

But then silence.

Criticism of the Nordic Way (a regular and quite conscious trope of the Nordic Council) has come in from the unionist side with their talk of massive tax hikes and from the far left who see the Nordic model as a Faustian pact with capitalism hiding under a friendly veneer of Moomin and mid-century furniture. One of the big problems is that nobody is quite sure what Nordic means. If you’re a political scientist the it refers very specifically to a unique system of tax-based growth economy ploughing profits back into human capital. If you’re of a more cultural bent it is mid-century classicism and nice cakes and Carl Malmsten chairs, or on a more dubious level a perceived heritage shared by Scotland. If, like me, you occupy the that third space between the policy wonks and economists and people munching on Kanelbullar in the West End and going to crayfish parties, it is a useful tool in Scotland’s political lexicon.

What you see most of all is how Nordicness allows Scotland to articulate its own better self, and the apparent waning of interest in Northern Scotland is slightly worrying. Irrespective of how genuine Nordic Scotland is, the referendum campaign appears to be in danger of slipping back into a fight over family silver and half-truths. The Northern dream has briefly allowed Scotland to glimpse an alternative to welfare cuts and Taylor Wimpey homes, daring to speculate on a new aesthetic without recourse to nationalist shibboleths.

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Communication breakdown

We seem to have started something… yes, it’s another guest post, this time from Doug Daniel, responding to Tom Harris’s response to Pete Wishart’s original post on an all-party campaign for independence.  Doug Daniel is a senior software developer and (failed) musician from Aberdeen.  He wants Scotland to be independent, and he very occasionally blogs here, but only when he can be bothered.

I want Scottish independence. I’ve been a supporter of Scottish independence ever since I was old enough to understand that Scotland did not enjoy the same nation status as “normal” countries (in other words, I can’t remember not wanting independence), and I’ve been a member of the SNP since 2007, when the idea of Scottish voters plumping for independence suddenly seemed a realistic prospect.

That doesn’t mean I’m a dyed-in-the-wool SNP voter (I’ve actually voted for four of the five parties currently represented in Holyrood – I’ll let you guess who the odd one out is) and throughout my life I like to think I’ve taken the time to try to understand why there are many people in Scotland who do not think the same way as I do. I understand them, but I don’t agree with them. So why does it feel like the majority of those who favour the union have never afforded the same respect to those who do want independence?

We see politicians from the three unionist parties talking of independence as “the SNP’s separatist agenda” (so what’s the Green and socialist agendas?), as if it was some evil plan concocted by the wicked overlord Alex Salmond and his cabinet henchmen, the aim of which we will not find out until we’ve been duped into voting for it. By then it will be too late, and we’ll suddenly realise that we’ve been strung along the whole time – it was never about creating a better nation after all, it was just about… Well, I have no idea.

Digging a big trench along the border and erecting a big fence to keep everyone out so Scotland remains isolated from the world? Turning Scotland into some sort of despotic dictatorship, putting Irn Bru in the taps, forcing everyone to eat cholestoral* and listen to The Corries on a loop, while using the oil money to make a big, gold statue of Emperor Salmond? Who knows. I suspect those that use such words don’t know either – they just like the negative connotations of the words “separatist” and “agenda” and use them accordingly.

And this is the problem. When unionists are “fighting” against independence, on the most part I don’t believe they actually understand what they’re fighting against. There seems to be a sense that all those who seek independence care about is getting independence, purely for the sake of getting it. Or perhaps that nationalists think that the second Scotland votes for it, the pavements will be paved with gold, we’ll all be millionaires, and all our social ills will magically disappear. They don’t seem to have considered the possibility that people perhaps view independence as a method for making Scotland better, rather than being the secret ingredient itself.

I’m not sure why this is. Obviously, it’s easy to be against something if you’ve made no effort to understand it, in fact this ignorance is almost as much a part of human nature as resistance to change.

The greatest album ever recorded (this is a scientific fact) has a song titled “Ifwhiteamericatoldthetruthforonedayit’sworldwouldfallapart”, and similarly I do wonder if some unionists subconsciously feel that doubts might start to creep in if they so much as acknowledged that independence might not be the absurd notion they purport it to be. Others have perhaps just listened to the media hype for so long that they feel there is no need to look at the pros and cons of both sides for themselves, assuming that it has already been demonstrated, without a shadow of a doubt, that the (supposed) benefits of the union outweigh any minor improvements independence might bring. I dare say there are some in the political class that quite simply view independence as a threat to career progression.

One excuse I’ve noticed being used increasingly is that unionists don’t view the constitutional question as being very important, implying that they don’t see the need to waste time thinking about it. Those who say this would do well to reassess the situation, because like it or not, there is going to be a referendum in this parliamentary session, so they might need to start thinking about it pretty soon. Besides, one thing the polls constantly show us is that less and less Scots are happy with the status quo, so the constitutional question would need to be answered, even if there was no referendum on the horizon.

I want the forthcoming debate on the constitution to be well argued on both sides. I don’t want people to vote for independence just because of a dearth of reasoned arguments on the other side, just as I don’t want people to stick with the union purely because all they hear are completely unfounded horror stories about what independence will do to Scotland.

I want the outcome of the referendum to be the result of both (or all three?) sides arguing their cases succinctly, and the public deciding which option sounds like the best way forward for the country. I don’t see that happening while many (most?) of a unionist persuasion refuse to try to understand why so many people want independence, other than perhaps pithily putting it down to watching Braveheart a few too many times and making references to shortbread tins. If you don’t make an effort to understand your opposition, how can you properly address their points?

So my question to these supporters of the union is this: why do you persistantly fail to understand why many people in Scotland want independence?

* (see I’m Alan Partridge series 2 episode 5)

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What’s happening on the jobs front – part two

Continuing my look at recent data on unemployment in Scotland, you can catch part one over at the ither place. And the briefing covering a wide range of employment-related issues is available at the Scottish Government’s website.

So which areas of Scotland are suffering the most?  And what is being done to stem the jobless flow?

Unsurprisingly, areas with traditionally high unemployment continue to experience high levels of joblessness.  This table shows the local authority areas in Scotland with above average numbers of people claiming Jobseekers’ Allowance (JSA):

Claimant count rate above national average
Total %age %age change since 2010
Scotland 140,557 4.1 5
Clackmannanshire 1,876 5.7 14
Dundee City 5,504 5.9 15
East Ayrshire 4,399 5.6 7
Falkirk 4,617 4.6 15
Fife 10,762 4.6 9
Glasgow City 25,300 6.2 2
Inverclyde 2,674 5.2 10
North Ayrshire 5,451 6.3 7
North Lanarkshire 11,801 5.5 4
Renfrewshire 5,456 4.9 9
South Lanarkshire 8,936 4.4 3
West Dunbartonshire 3,610 6.0 12
South Ayrshire 2,757 4.0 6
West Lothian 4,533 4.0 -6

So far so predictable.  But what about the areas experiencing increased unemployment – which local authority areas in Scotland are losing jobs the fastest?

Local authority Biggest %age change since 2010
Orkney Islands 24
Falkirk 15
Dundee City 15
Clackmannanshire 14
Aberdeenshire 13
West Dunbartonshire 12
Argyll & Bute 11
Perth & Kinross 11
Stirling 10
Inverclyde 10
Dumfries & Galloway 9
Fife 9
Renfrewshire 9
Shetland Islands -7
West Lothian -6

The table shows that as well as some of the usual suspects, like Dundee, Clackmannashire, Inverclyde and West Dunbartonshire,  other parts of Scotland are struggling to hold on to jobs.  Those “enjoying” the double whammy of high unemployment and also rapidly increasing unemployment are highlighted in yellow.  We will return to them in a moment.

Orkney has shown the biggest increase in numbers out of work in the last year, and while those numbers are relatively small compared to the numbers of jobless in Glasgow, the impact on the local economy and communities will be huge.  Other areas experiencing fast growing unemployment are predominantly rural and only two local authority areas in Scotland have seen the numbers claiming JSA come down in the last year.

But why are some areas of high unemployment appearing to fare better than others.  Why, for example, has the claimant count in Glasgow grown by only 2% compared to 15% in Falkirk?  Why lower numbers coming onto the dole in both Lanarkshires than in West Dunbartonshire?

The answer may lie – partly – in where new jobs are being created and existing jobs safeguarded.  Regional Selective Assistance (RSA) is the main national scheme providing financial assistance to industry.  Managed by Scottish Enterprise, grants are awarded to investment projects that will create and safeguard employment in designated Assisted Areas.  These are the areas which qualify for regional aid under European Community law.  Other grants are available under “Tier 3” which can be made in other designated areas to small and medium sized enterprises.

Looking at grants offered and accepted throughout 2010-11 and in the first quarter of 2011-12, there is some evidence of intervention working to limit the impact of the recession in areas where unemployment is high.  The table below sets out how many new jobs were created and the number of existing jobs safeguarded through the award of RSA grants and in which local authority areas these jobs were located.

RSA Grants 2011-12 RSA Grants 2010-11
Local authority No. New jobs Jobs safeguarded No. New Jobs Jobs safeguarded
Glasgow 213 Glasgow 2028 337
Lanarkshire 50 49 North Ayrshire 139 225
West Lothian 14 2 Fife 1096 148
East Ayrshire 12 15 Lanarkshire 384 379
West Dunbartonshire 44 82 Renfrewshire 783 41
Dundee 24 Stirling 70 1
Renfrewshire 120 West Dunbartonshire 79 7
Stirling 27 Dundee 228 15
South Ayrshire 18 40 Edinburgh 87 31
Falkirk 200
Highland 127
Inverclyde 200
Aberdeenshire 16
South Ayrshire 205 25
East Ayrshire 27 7
East Lothian 4 12
West Lothian 17
Clackmannanshire 23 200
Angus 12
Scottish Borders 9

All the areas highlighted in green are local authorities with above average JSA claimant count but which did not experience rapid growth in unemployment (relatively speaking) in the past twelve months.  From this perspective, the approach being taken by Scottish Enterprise can be seen to be working in at least slowing down the growth in unemployment in traditional blight areas.  Moreover, the inclusion of two areas just below the national average for claimant count in this exercise – South Ayrshire and West Lothian – has a point.  Both areas have benefitted from jobs growth and safeguarding since April 2010, even though other areas have higher unemployment.  Yet, they can be seen as hub areas – investment in South Ayrshire is just as likely to benefit the jobless in East and North Ayrshire due to the good transport links and relatively short travelling distances.  Investment here then has a potential ripple effect on other unemployment blackspots.  The same can be said to apply to West Lothian, with North and South Lanarkshire, Falkirk, Clackmannanshire and Fife all within easy commuting distance.

Despite this, there are clearly areas that are struggling – all those highlighted in red are managing to gain some new and safeguard other jobs with grant aid, but it is not enough to offset the loss of still more in their areas.  Unemployment remains high and is still growing in West Dunbartonshire, Renfrewshire, Fife, Inverclyde, Renfrewshire and Clackmannanshire.  And here’s a thought – given that everything we have done since 1999 has failed to “solve” endemic unemployment in these local authorities, isn’t it time we tried something new?  These communities have been blighted by inter-generational joblessness and deprivation since the 1980s and still they suffer the most when we experience economic downturn.

That said, this is nothing these local authorities ain’t seen before:  their resilience at coping will be being tested but it will be there.  What might be more worrying for the Scottish Government in the short term, is that they are being joined by a whole new group of rural local authorities with rapidly growing unemployment.  The ability of their public sector agencies to lead and to cope – to know what to do and how to apply it to weather the storm – is more questionable.  Having been in this situation less recently and intensely, with some of these areas like Stirling, Aberdeenshire and Perth and Kinross, having enjoyed very low levels of unemployment throughout the noughties, how resilient are these communities and populations?

Recovery too might be more difficult, given that some of these areas have historically found it hard to attract investment due to sparsity of population and poor infrastructure.  Also they are heavily reliant on public sector employment – councils and health boards are probably the biggest employers – and job losses are only just starting from this source.  Moreover, a glance at the RSA table shows that few of these local authorities have featured in awards in the last twelve months, mainly because they are not Assisted Areas.  Thus, we have considerable increases in people losing their jobs but no state mechanism to help safeguard existing or create new jobs.  What will the Scottish Government be able to do to stem the jobless flow here?

There are patterns here to be concerned about.   The areas traditionally blighted by unemployment are not being spared this time round and some of them are suffering fast rising unemployment even with state intervention to create jobs.  It is not good in either the short or long term.

And there is a whole new group of local authorities struggling to weather the storm where traditional job-creating methods are largely unavailable because of their relative affluence in the 90s and noughties.  As yet, there seems little that can be done at national level to slow the impact of job losses or foster new employment.   Will these areas manage to bounce back without help from the state?

At the very least, these sorts of statistics should prompt the need for some fresh thinking by the Scottish Government on how to create and safeguard jobs in communities in the future.  What we have in place works but not nearly enough.

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Will the Lib Dems pay for being a Tory shield?

On MitB, I regularly whacked the Lib Dems for everything I could think of.  But given we’ve started afresh, with a blank canvas and a promise of positivity, that has to stop.  Which is a shame – there isn’t much more fun in the blogosphere than baiting Lib Dems.  Nevertheless, I’ll try to get through a post without dissing them too much.

I think one of the most surprising things that came out of the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition was, for me, the fact that the Lib Dems took on the role of Secretary of State for Scotland.  I was a little surprised that they didn’t give it to Alastair Carmichael, who acted as Scotland spokesperson during the election debates (and, in my mind, was a very able performer, even – and I don’t think its unfair to say – outshining Alex Salmond in the event at the Hub) when they did get the position.  More surprised that they gave it to Danny Alexander, and then Michael Moore after Alexander’s move to the Treasury, but then I don’t know that much about internal Lib Dem personalities and cliques.

Anyway, I was more surprised that they took on the role – though I guess the Conservatives didn’t really give them much of a choice (with only one MP in Scotland, the role was probably odds-on to go to a Lib Dem).  For me, the Conservatives must be delighted with this – and the fact that they have a Lib Dem in the Treasury too – for the simple reason that, although the policies that are being enacted (and for “policies” read “cuts”) are pretty much Tory ones, they can point to the Lib Dems and say it is them who is doing it.  In essence what Scotland has is a Lib Dem “Governor General” who fronts for the Tories in Scotland – providing a shield for them and their unpopular cuts up here.  The Tories must be delighted.

But… I said I’d be positive, so here’s something:  I can understand why they took the job.  I think pre-Nick Clegg and the TV debates, the Lib Dem vote was in free-fall.  There were some polls in which they had fallen below 15% nationally – and, indeed, they were squeezed out of the Lab-SNP and Con-Lab narratives in Scotland.  The Clegg effect kept them at 2005 levels.  But because of the two narratives here, they do need a handle on why they remain relevant in Scotland – and I think the fact they have the Secretary of State for Scotland gives them that opportunity.  Now it may be that relevance is symbolic – that Michael Moore can say what he likes in the Cabinet room and no one will really listen – but it does look to the public like they have a role to play.  And that, in elections, is important.

So yes, on the surface, having a Lib Dem Secretary of State for Scotland gives the Tories a nice shield in Scotland.  But on the other hand, it also delivers something for the Lib Dems too – a measure of relevance (which, arguably – and I’m sure you’ll debate the point – they may not have without it).  Everyone’s a winner.

But what about the voters?  Will they see it the same way?  “The Lib Dems have the guy running Scotland in the Cabinet, therefore we must vote for them” is one way they could look at it.  Alternatively, the “Lib Dem Scottish Secretary is a front for Tory cuts in Scotland – we must punish them by voting against them” is another potential view.  So how will that go?  I guess time – and the full force of the cuts – will tell.

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